Ultramook 50K – Travelogue and a Jungle Run

Ultramook 50K was an inaugural race organized by Patrick Zweifel, who as I found out is quite the Born to Coach dude! He owns the amazing Hydrangea Range in Tillamook, cross-country coach for Tillamook High school, organizes cross country camps (with a recent presence by McFarland – remember the movie?) and all proceeds from this race going to the high school runners. To be honest, I signed up because of the pictures. What better way to put that endurance and running legs than to explore new places? I found out about all of this later. My Strava activity from this 50K.

Getting there

My wife and I made a weekend out of this and flew up to Portland on Friday. As it happened, it was one of our best friends’ birthday and we hung out with her before heading to Tillamook on Saturday. It’s a beautiful drive from Portland, leaving the warm temperatures behind, into the coastal fog that embraces you soon after you see the sign for Tillamook State Forest. After we settled down into the AirBnB, we checked out Cape Meares, hiked around the lighthouse and the Octopus Tree and enjoyed a spectacular sunset by the Oceanside beach. I had no idea that Oregon’s 320 miles of coastline provides wilderness protection to thousands of small islands and rocks! Not to mention there are Peregrine Falcons nesting on these rocks!

Also on the way back to the Portland airport, we stopped by the World Forestry Center and were pretty impressed about how Oregon has made a law of re-forestation. For every tree that’s cut down the law requires that 4 more trees are planted! Oregon forest land owners plant about 40 million seedlings every year. More importantly, there are more trees being planted each year than are harvested. After running 31 miles (50K) through the Tillamook State Forest and portions of Bureau Land Management (BLM), I cannot tell you how pleased I am that there’s a focused effort to preserve grow these beautiful forests for generations to come.

Ultramook 50K

Oh yeah, about the run. There were only 21 of us running the 50K. My wife’s motivation speech? “I’ll be proud if you finish in the top 20”. Thanks, that helps a lot. 🙂 After parking at the ranch, we walked around checking out the Hydrangea flowers in full bloom, crawled under a “supposed” electric fence to walk around over the bridge, across the river to the start line.

The race itself is in two loops. The first loop is about 30K (3,700ft gain/loss) and the second one 20K (2,100ft gain/loss). The first 2ish miles is along the Kilchis River and mostly flat. After a right turn into one of the logging roads, it climbs 2,000ft in about 3.7 miles with fairly steep sections. Okay, let me tell you about these old logging roads, if you haven’t run them. They start out like fire trails and slowly but surely they start to narrow down and you can see two tracks with overgrowth in the middle. Soon after the trail narrows even further and the bushes (salmon & black berries) start fighting you from both sides as well as the ground. And then it all but disappears and the only sign you know you are on track are those ribbons.

Now you see the trail and then you don’t! The wildflowers were in full bloom everywhere and the weather was just perfect. Closer to the top of the climb, I had two runners pass me, but other than that I was pretty much on my own for most of the course.

Seriously, can you see where the trail is? Somewhere around mile 9, I started to think I had accidentally taken the right turn that goes to the 2nd loop. After staring at the map and getting concerned, I backtracked a mile or so until I saw some runners that convinced me we were on the right track. Onward!

Past the next aid station, there were two out and backs on spur trails to Top of the World #1 (0.4 miles) and Top of the World #2 (steep 1.1 mile) to lookout points. Unfortunately there was so much coastal fog, there wasn’t many views.

Finished the first loop in 3:40 and quickly started the 2nd loop. Even through the climb along the river was gradual, the overgrowth made it next to impossible to actually run. Every time I would start running, there would be a deep ditch created by the run-offs that I would stop, climb down/up and resume. After the 5th ditch, I mostly just walked up. Did see some Elks though! Pretty cool. I was so focused on ribbons, I went up Top of the World #2 once more and lost more time. Finally, pushed on the last descent and made it to the finish line around 6:28. The best part is you finish INTO the creek. That’s just wicked. I think every race should have a creek crossing AS the finish line.

If there were Poison Oak along these trails, I would’ve needed a full skin transplant as I had to many cuts, bruises and welts all over my limbs. But, I have to say, this was so much fun. A different kind of run, but very Oregonian.

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